Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

Artificial Intelligence and the limits of language.  Is it possible to truly understand statements represented in language without knowing something about the world outside of language?

The abolition of school discipline…basically, the public school equivalent of shutting down police departments.  The article at the link discusses the consequences.

How did Amazon Web Services become so successful?  The track record of companies that developed information technology for their own use and then decided to market it to other users has not been very good:  AWS is a major exception.

Can capitalism save Hollywood?

The nature of America’s university administrators, as observed by Stephen Hsu.  More here.

The mother of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a major figure in the German anti-Nazi resistance, refused to send her children to public schools:

She was openly distrustful of the German public schools and their Prussian educational methods. She subscribed to the maxim that Germans had their backs broken twice, once at school and once in the military, she wasn’t about to entrust her children to the care of others less sensitive than she during their earliest years.

Analysis of trends in scientific publications suggests that truly disruptive research is becoming less common.  The article at the link argues that ideological capture of institutions has been a major cause of reduced innovation.  See also this related article.

Joseph Flaherty reacts to a small carving of a water bird, created 33000 years ago:  “Imagine your greatest of grandparents, pursued by frost and ravenous megafauna through an endless German winter, huddled in a lean-to lit and warmed by an open fire, deciding to carve this bird to make their child smile, to impress their mate, or simply for the joy of creation.”

16 thoughts on “Worthwhile Reading & Viewing”

  1. Here’s and article dealing with the source of some Viking era genes.

    It’s especially interesting how the researchers came to the conclusion that there wasn’t any reason to believe evidence that the contributions from the British Isles were involuntary. Notwithstanding the very numerous contemporaneous accounts and graves that demonstrate otherwise. I hadn’t been aware of the Viking’s reputation for gentlemanly demeanor and respect for private property.

  2. AWS is a fine service for anyone who needs it. It exists because of their research into selling crap to people. They are very good at this and the infrastructure they have is a big part of why.

    On a personal level, M$ bought Bethesda and took one of the games I play, Fallout 76, off AWS which ran the game online for Bethesda. This is not good for the game, I doubt M$ cares at all about the poor bandwidth we have now since they took us off AWS, but I have stopped playing it. It affects everything in an online game. I turn around, and that has to go through a server, that determines where exactly I am. All the stuff in the game, has to be kept track of all the time, and cutting back on our bandwidth is really a poor way to save money.

    M$ screwing up will cost them, but AWS ran the sucker smooth and fast, and we all were happy. Most people have no idea what happened of course. They just chalk it up to bugs. A small word that is easy to spell. ;(

  3. Germany outlawed homeschooling pretty much completely under the Third Reich. Bonhoeffer was a child before this, and I did notice this in Eric Metaxas’ excellent biography of Bonhoeffer.

    Another interesting person who was homeschooled some of the time even during the Third Reich was Christoph Probst. The one exception, it seemed, for homeschooling, was if the child or children were being taught by a certified, accredited teacher. Christoph Probst’s mother was a teacher, and although he went to regular school some of the time, she took advantage of this exception to homeschool Christoph and his sister. Sadly, Christoph Probst, the father of three small children, was executed by the Nazis for “treason” at the age of 23.

  4. It is interesting that the requirement for attendance at public schools was implemented not under the Kaiser, nor was it something that only happened under the Nazis…but was implemented in 1920, under the Weimar government.

  5. How vexing that someone working with sharp rocks can make a better duck than I can, with all my power tools. The head is particularly well done.

  6. The AI problem is not necessarily a language inadequacy problem. The authors seem to miss completely that language is not only not-just-writing, it is miles away from being just writing. Most languages are not written, or written only in a Bible some western group has labored to produce plus some government documents. Because the most common languages are written we get used to thinking that the words on the page are the “real” language. We have developed tools that go with writing that allow us to do things that were difficult without it. We can send language at distances of time and space, expanding the collective memory a thousandfold or millionfold. Yet it is still a very imperfect language reflector (which is why we have stupid grammar rules). No one speaks that way, even those of us who read constantly and believe we hew to the written word rather exactly. We don’t, and that doesn’t even include gesture, tone, speed and emphasis, etc. The elitist idea that the real language was the written one is descended from the earlier idea that writing was magic and imbued with special powers. Because the more intelligent people really like sending and receiving information at distance, writing keeps her magical aura. For now.

    Now that we have other technologies that can send language across distances of time and space, someone is going to eventually use those as the training sets for AI and it may transcend its current limitations. But its current slighty-off feature that keeps it from being truly intelligent is not necessarily the fault of machine learning, but of being stuck on the idea that written language is Real Language.

  7. AVI…there are speech-to-text systems, of course, and some of them have gotten pretty good. But I haven’t heard of any that are trying to pick up emotional tone, emphasis on particular points, etc, and then interpreting the literal meaning of the text in the context of those signifiers.

  8. @ David – exactly. It is extremely hard because it requires so much information “bandwidth” to get everything. Consider, for example, my novel use of “bandwidth” above as a metaphor based on a fairly new technical concept which we all know and our parents didn’t. It would only take a few repetitions for a purported AI to incorporate that, or such possible jokes as “bandwitch” or “bandwich.” They all look complicated at first because they set us on our heels for a moment and we think that would give a computer pause as well. But the difference between people’s tones or gestures or timing is enormous, yet recognised instantly by the brain as “the same thing.”

    Look at the proliferation of emojis as people try to capture those subtleties but only partly succeed, even though those have faces.

    Another analogy, one designed to throw off any algorithm trying to replicate my complexity ( which will work for another decade anyway), consider LIDAR and archaeology, which can sense amazing things that ceased being used 2000 y/a beneath the flora. It has revolutionised the whole idea of where to dig, how networks between places worked (especially in Latin america), and what was traded. Yet that level of reading the terrain is far more clumsy than a kindergarten class “reading” their teacher’s mood. Even before they quietly talk about it at recess.

  9. AVI,

    I like your use of bandwidth. While I found the article’s use of the term somewhat limited I found it’s passing, almost dismissive, reference to Wittgenstein more disturbing.

    A while back I was consulting on a friend’s project that had to do with observations of subjects who came from a range of cultural backgrounds. While there was a recorded audio feed for these observations, there was rarely a recording of a video that could be later distributed, in other words the person on the spot had to make the interpretation so it was imperative to train them correctly. My friend described how he tried to convey the problem to his team in terms of Wittgenstein’s conception of pictures whereby the goal was to construct an accurate representation of the subject as possible where obstructions occur both due to cultural issue (the subjects being observed were from Asia) and the fact that the subjects were actively trying to conceal information from the observers.

    We discussed Wittgenstein’s model as both a frame of reference for his team and as an instructional tool to train his team on proper observation because they would have to use the full-range of information, would you better described as bandwidth, in order to construct the correct picture.

    An added wrinkle to the issue of AI wrinkle is what happens once enough horsepower is dedicated to construct an algorithm that can decode the complexity of human communication. We may assume that its “picture” of reality is either superior to ours or correctly mirrors reality. We also assume that an AI that does have such a sufficiency would be able to, nay feel obligated, to communicate back to us in a manner in which we can understand. I am not sure a fully autonomous AI would think it was under any such obligation.

  10. Fascinating. My new Subaru Solterra has both RADAR and LIDAR and its really hard to get it to hit anything.

    The LIDAR is all over the damn car and the RADAR has 3 units. One in the front and two on the back corners. That stops it really fast if something jumps out in front of the car. It will not hit anything if it can help it. The multiple LIDAR units give me a 360 view of everything around, and under the car. Well it would see that, before it was over it, and show you where it was last time it could see it. It also will not let you open the door is a car is coming up beside you.

    As I’m quite old and have been watching my facilities decline over some time now, its almost like I should buy the car, just to protect the world from me.

    I pick it up on Sat and have been waiting almost a year.

  11. It’s not only a question of whether *written* language, without the nuances of tone and gesture, is sufficient…there is also the question of connecting to something *outside* of language. When humans think of the word ‘sun’, we picture light, warmth, etc. Even very abstract concepts probably anchor indirectly to something sensory.

  12. Btw 1 more comment regarding your use of the term bandwidth,

    A few years ago I was in a symposium dealing with operational security in the digital age. It was went to provide a bookend to what we all heard Tim Berners-Lee discuss back in those innocent, early 1990s days regarding the “Internet of things.” The presenter dealt with operational security in hostile electronic environments with hostile being defined from the Chinese security services to the guy at works who wants to get you fired.

    His focus regarding operational security in the digital age was not just on managing your electronic emissions (e.g. you cell phone) but understanding the ability of a now ubiquitous electronic environment to capture the vast array of information a person emanates on a subconscious level and then either analyze that information on the spot or transmit it to some other expert. That array of information, I think in retrospect, would fall within your definition of bandwidth, would entail what you looked at, nonverbal communication with other people, your reactions to the events around you. You might be observed passing by a particular person and while you may not have been heard to say anything to them, the fact that you let your gaze linger on them conveys a level of interest that your lack of spoken word does not.

    While my friend was describing how to move unobserved in such environments, he of course was describing China’s social credit system which relies in part on capturing the vast range of information emanating from the citizenry. His point is how can you hide your operations in such an information-rich, hostile environment when everyone from the Reds to the guy down hall with a cell phone camera wish you ill. Ability to communicate outside of written/spoken language can be both a blessing and a curse

    A second thought… could an AI ever learn to communicate in Navajo?

  13. Don’t forget the Navaho code talkers must have known each other all their lives and been very attuned to each other’s ways of speech.

  14. LOL. China is about to break Solar. Prices for solar panels are about to drop a lot. A great deal of fossil fuel is already unable to compete, and much cheaper panels, will not help at all.

    The world is changing, get used to it.

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